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Work in Progress: Pedagogical Effectiveness of Continuous vs. Discrete User Interaction with Computer Demonstrations

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Computers in Education Division Technical Session 11

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


James C. Squire P.E. Virginia Military Institute

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James Squire is the Jamison-Payne Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute. Dr. Squire received a B.S. from the United States Military Academy and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was awarded a Bronze Star in the Army during Desert Storm and was selected as Virginia’s Rising Star professor in 2004. He is a licensed Professional Engineer in Massachusetts and Virginia and maintains an active consulting practice.

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Gerald Sullivan P.E. Virginia Military Institute

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Dr. Gerald Sullivan, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute, received his B.S.M.E. from the University of Vermont and his Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has held teaching positions at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the University of Vermont. Prior to joining the faculty at the Virginia Military Institute in the fall of 2004, he was employed by JMAR Inc. where he was involved in research and development of X-ray lithography systems for the semiconductor industry. His interests include mechanical design, acoustics applications and controls.

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Tom McCormick Virginia Military Institute

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30 Years of service with the US Army. Retired as COL.
37 Years of services with the Federal Goverment. Retired as a Senior Excutive. Sevred as a sytems enginner. Focued on special operations and counterterrorism.
Currently teaching Electrical Enginerring at VMI.

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Computer demonstrations and simulations are well-researched tools for teaching; resources such as The Guide to Simulation Games for Education and Training have existed for half a century (Zuckerman, 1970) and numerous studies have investigated the value of interactive simulations in the engineering and mathematical academic setting. The ubiquity of mobile computing devices, the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), and changes as textbook publishers embrace electronic media have further spurred the use of simulations as an important method to provide an intuitive, self-guided understanding of quantitative cause-and-effect relationships. Such simulations may use discrete methods to interact with them, such as setting simulation parameters, pressing a calculate button, and observing the results, or they may employ a continuous method of interaction, such as dragging a slider and observing in real-time how the results are affected. Although demonstrations using continuous input methods are considerably more difficult to program, no studies have attempted to quantify the pedagogical benefits, if any, of adopting one manner of user interaction over the other.

This Work-In-Progress (WIP) paper describes a set of experiments to test the hypothesis that interactive software demonstrations using continuous input methods are more pedagogically efficient than those using discrete input methods. We propose to test this hypothesis by creating two different interactive computer demonstrations. The demonstration chosen develops student intuition connecting a phasor representation and its time-domain sinusoidal waveform. Both demonstration programs have identical output areas displaying the sinusoid, and identically appearing input areas showing the phasor. The discrete version requires the user to input the magnitude and angle of the phasor and press a calculate button; the continuous version uses a similar input screen but allows the user to drag a point to establish the phasor magnitude and angle.

A ten-minute self-guided student tutorial identical for the two software versions will explain the mathematics linking phasors with their time-domain sinusoid in a manner that requires the student to use the software demonstration. It will then ask a series of questions to determine objective subject understanding as well as to assess the student’s subjective self-perception of subject mastery and enjoyment of the experience. The answer key will be coded to determine which software version the student used.

The WIP paper will present preliminary results of our investigation based upon data to be collected in the fall 2019 semester. Differences in the level of mastery attained by students between the two test programs will be documented to help refine our proposed methods for future data collection.

Squire, J. C., & Sullivan, G., & McCormick, T. (2020, June), Work in Progress: Pedagogical Effectiveness of Continuous vs. Discrete User Interaction with Computer Demonstrations Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35677

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